Unless the Lord Builds the House (Psalm 127)

In Sermons, The Whole Story, Year 2024 by harvest.admin

Resource by Eric Weiner

As we continue in our series through the whole story of the Bible, we find ourselves in the Psalms, if you’ll turn to Psalm 127. The Psalms are like a divinely inspired hymnbook. 

In one sense, each Psalm can stand on its own. Have you ever come to the Bible and said, “Okay God, I want to hear from you, but I have no idea where to begin.” And so you just randomly open your Bible and read the first thing you put your finger on. 

That pretty much never works; except on occasion when you open to the Psalms. The Psalms seems to have a word to speak for every season and circumstance. 

In another sense, the Psalms are a collection of songs that have been fit together to tell a story, specifically the story of David and his royal family and God’s promise to provide a forever King. 

There are different kinds of Psalms: Psalms of thanksgiving and psalms of lament. Psalms that consider the majesty of God and Psalms that cry out for the justice of God. 

This morning we are looking at a psalm of ascent. Last week, Pastor Peter shared about Solomon building the Temple. The Temple was the house of the Lord. And the Temple was so important because life with God was so important. All of life was meant to be lived with God at the center. 

See, the Temple of Jerusalem was built on a high hill, and it was common for Jews to travel into the city of Jerusalem during one of their annual festivals. You see Jesus’s family do this in the gospels. 

They would caravan with people from their community – their family, neighbors, and friends. There are 15 Psalms of Ascent in total, and as they journeyed up to the House of the Lord they would sing these songs. 

In this short psalm written by Solomon, he gives us so much wisdom about life. Let me read it to you: 

1 Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

2  It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3  Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,

the fruit of the womb a reward.

4  Like arrows in the hand of a warrior

are the children of one’s youth.

5  Blessed is the man

who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame

when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

I love that Solomon wrote these words. Let me tell you why. Solomon is the son of David. He’s the King God chose to build His Temple in Jerusalem. We said this last week, he’s the guy who, when given the opportunity to ask God for anything asks for wisdom. 

And God was so pleased that he not only gave Solomon wisdom, but in 1 Kings 3:13 the LORD says, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.” Solomon’s reputation was so great that when other rulers heard about him they thought Solomon must have had some fanboys making stuff up because Solomon sounds more like a fictional character than a real-life person. 

On one occasion, the Queen of Sheba visited Solomon, and after her visit, she admitted, “…I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.”

Here you have a guy with unmatched wisdom, riches, and fame. He experienced a standard of life in his day that we could only dream of. 

There’s a temptation in my heart to believe, if I had the things God gave to Solomon, my life would be so much more fulfilling. I would be infinitely generous. I would spend my time doing great good for others. Never one to fall under the weight of others’ unmet expectations. Never one to over-inflate my ego. I’d still be the same guy. 

And then after I get past the fact that that will probably never be a test God puts before me, I thank God for knowing what’s best for me and how to best use me for his purposes. 

But get this, Solomon had the means to build kingdoms in his day that would go beyond human imagination. He could fortify and station watchmen over his city day and night. But unless the Lord builds it, it will not last. 

In Psalm 127, Solomon wants us to know the secret to life. He wants us to learn to prioritize the things that really matter. Wisdom is knowing the plans of God and living them out in the present moment. 

But life today can feel so distracting and overwhelming. We’re constantly trying to balance the busyness of work with the responsibilities of daily life. My life constantly feels out of balance. I don’t know if you relate to this, but sometimes I feel distracted in my work. And if I waste time, then I’m not as productive as I want to be. And if I’m not as productive as I want to be then I get stressed. 

And when my work day is done I take that home with me. And at home I’m present in body but distracted in thought. Sometimes my mind is still at work. And then when it’s time to rest I feel like I wasn’t as available as I should have been with my family. And when I wake up in the morning I don’t feel rested. 

And that’s on a normal week. That’s if everything goes well. If something unexpected happens, we quickly go from struggling to drowning. And at some point, you wonder, “What is this all for? What is my purpose in life?” 

Maybe it’s for professional success and personal happiness. Maybe it’s to build a better life for my family. But what happens when you’re unfulfilled in your job? What happens when the things you enjoy aren’t enough? Life will throw you around. There will be good times and hard times and sometimes for reasons outside of your control. So what then? 

But Solomon says what we should really aim for is a life dependent on God. Solomon wants to push us back to the center and see that ultimately God is the one who guides our steps. 

You want a better future? Invest in the future God is building. Live for the kingdom being built in Jesus’s name. 

Three things we see going on in Psalm 127 that should preoccupy our time and that require a life of dependence on God: (1) Work, (2) rest, and (3) raising a family. 

  1. Work, trusting that God is responsible for the end result. 

Verse 1 says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stays awake in vain.” 

This doesn’t mean we can’t do any earthly good. Just take a look around Kuala Lumpur and you’ll see that people are capable of creating incredible cities, filled with activity and life. The problem is not in our ability to work. The problem is with how much control we think we have. 

We act like we have total control. That our lives are ultimately up to us, when they’re not!

We could be wise stewards of our money. We could be thoughtful and discerning in the decisions that we make. We could be highly skilled in the jobs that we do. 

I know a guy who spent decades being productive in his work. He was on track to become a partner of his company, only to find out that the company was not in the financial position they led him to believe. So when they were forced to cut some high-level employees, his career never fully recovered. 

No matter the amount of planning, no matter the amount of money, no matter the level of skill, mismanagement can still happen. Accidents can still happen. Sickness and disease can still happen. Disappointment and betrayal can still happen. 

And on top of that, if it goes unchecked, sin will ruin us all. Solomon’s life gives us a case study of that. He built wonderful things in God’s name, but he also let earthly pleasures turn his heart away from the promises of God. We are never as in control as we think we are. 

Either we will spend our time doing things the Lord desires or we will spend our time doing things that have no eternal value at all. You can work as long or as hard as you want, but if the Lord is not in it it will not matter. 

And couldn’t we say that with so many other things?

Unless the LORD adds to the church, we evangelize in vain. 

Unless the LORD teaches this class, we prepare in vain. 

Unless the LORD restores this family, we counsel in vain.

Unless the LORD expands the business, we market in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over our children, we parent in vain. 

Now, that doesn’t mean do nothing. We don’t sit idly by waiting for God to act. Who are we to test God? 

The point is that God is in control and we are not. So we don’t have to bear the weight of ultimate responsibility we were never intended to carry. 

We should approach the work that we do knowing that God is actively involved. God cares about the work that you do. He is in it with you. “So in whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Col. 3:23). 

See, this is a call to take your approach to work and bring it back to the center. You don’t get to be at the center. God is the one who guides your steps. He’s the one building the house and the city that will last. So as you live your life, you should take responsibility for the things you’re responsible for, walk boldly in faith, and trust God with the results. 

And if you are in a position he doesn’t want you in, he will direct you elsewhere. 

John Piper talks about this in the context of preparing to teach a class. He says, “If my highest efforts are only in vain without God’s special help, then the success or failure of this class lies ultimately on him, not me. And with that a weight is lifted off my back that I was never created to carry, namely, the final responsibility for the success or failure of any venture.” 

Do you see the freedom in that? I wonder if the weight of responsibility that feels so overbearing to us is really the consequence of carrying things that ultimately belong to the Lord. And we feel stuck underneath the weight of it because we don’t trust Him to hold it. And when we’ve taken his place we are in disobedience. We need to learn to give back to him the things that only he can hold and be content in letting him use us to build the house he intends to build. 

Listen, I realize that you might have many dreams for your life. But if the Lord has not allowed it, then he must not be in it. And as disappointing as that may be, sometimes that’s exactly the direction we need. 

Don’t be so confident in yourself that you don’t come to God in prayer. Don’t be so confident in yourself that you don’t ask him to do things you could never do yourself. 

  1. Rest, content that God is awake.

Sleep studies show that the average adult needs between 7-9 hours of sleep a day. There are 8,760 hours in a year. So at 8 hours a day, we’re talking about just under 3,000 hours of sleep a year. Now, I don’t know if that actually happens in Malaysia. But assuming that these studies are reliable, that means we’ll spend nearly a third of our time sleeping during the most productive years of our lives.

Some of you are like, “Praise God!” Others of you hear that and you start to feel anxious. Because you think, I don’t have enough time to sleep that much!

But Solomon says, “It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)

What he’s saying is that those who are early to rise and late to sleep think overworking will solve their problems. And they don’t go empty-handed. They have some bread to show for it. 

But listen, if a third of our most productive years will be spent sleeping, then we need to accept our God-given limitations and submit to the never-ending care of God. Every day you’re going to reach a point where physically you can’t keep going, and no amount of tea or coffee or whatever else you put in your body will help you overcome it. Every night you’ll have to climb in bed and admit – “I’m done. I have nothing left to give.” 

And even when that wasn’t enough, we can still trust that God’s not done. He doesn’t grow tired and weary like we do. He expects us to fall asleep on him. And he wants us to trust that he will never fall asleep on us. 

When I struggle to sleep it’s usually because some trouble or worry has gripped me. And I can’t stop thinking about it. 

It’s usually the storms in life that push me away from rest. Worry often drives us to work, even when we physically can’t. Worries about our finances. Worries about our relationships. Our future job prospects. Our medical needs. Victor Hugo is a French novelist. He has this great line about this. He says, “Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.”

Worry drives us to work, but the ongoing care of God should lead us to rest. The storms of life will toss us around, but the God who guides our steps even controls the storms.

There’s a story in the gospels where Jesus and his disciples get caught in a literal storm at sea. Some of these guys are fishermen by trade. So they know what to do. But the storm is so bad it doesn’t matter. It’s too great for them. To the point that they think they’re going to die. And so they go to Jesus and Jesus is in the back of the boat sleeping.

When they go to wake him up they’re yelling at him, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you care that we’re all going to die??” And Jesus rebukes the storm and he says, “Why are you guys so afraid?” 

God is saying to you, rest. What storm has come upon you that God can’t make still? Don’t you know that he has control over all things? Child of God, rest. 

  1. Invest now in the Kingdom still to come. 

Don’t live your life only for the pleasures of today. But also don’t be anxious about the troubles of tomorrow. Enjoy your work as from the Lord. Trust Him to direct your steps, and when you get to the end of the day; rest in Him. But as we work and rest, God wants our sights set on the future he’s building. 

And one of the most direct ways we make deposits in his future kingdom is by treasuring time with our kids. 

Just listen to what Solomon says about children. They’re “a heritage from the LORD.” They’re “fruit of the womb.” “A reward.” They’re “like arrows in the hand of a warrior,” and the man with a quiverful is “blessed.” There are plenty of cultures today that treat children like problems to be solved. That see children as dream killers. But Solomon says children are gifts from God. Children are legacy builders. Raising kids is like multiplying your walk with God and then sending them out into the world to be a blessing. 

And then in verse 5 he says you will never be “put to shame” by your enemies at the gates. The city gate was the place where legal matters would take place. It’s where your family’s reputation and well-being was protected. If you remember from the book of Ruth, Boaz went to discuss legal matters around being the family’s kinsman-redeemer at the city gate. 

The men and women who will not be put to shame are those who invested in the character and discipleship of those who would come after them. If you want communities that value the kingdom of God then invest in them in your home and your church today. 

One day these infants and children will be fully grown adults. They will be the ones to carry forward, not just the legacy of your family, but the promises of God. They will become living testimonies of the faithfulness and goodness of God.

I know, some of you might be thinking, but I don’t have kids. But any time teaching about family life comes up in the Bible, it’s always addressed to the entire community. For the Christian, family cuts two ways. We have a responsibility to our biological family and also to our spiritual family. 

Both houses should be contexts for gospel witness and kingdom advancement. Let me talk to our parents for a moment.

Parents, one of the greatest things you can do for your kids is to prioritize their discipleship in Christ. Take your faith seriously and live it out before your kids. 

I mentioned earlier that there are 8,760 hours in a year. So, let me put it like this. If you attend church every Sunday – let’s just say 2 hours a week – the church would get 104 hours of your time over a year. That’s just over 1% (1.18%). For those who are of age, if you bring your kids to student ministry, then we just bumped that number to just over 1 & 1/2%. And that’s if you come every week. 

Now hear me, the church is an important part of family discipleship. For my family, investing in discipleship and relationships in the church is a non-negotioable for us. That’s something we are committed to no matter what. But for our kids, that can’t be the only part of their discipleship. And I’m not talking about finding more programs to put them in. 

What I’m saying is to store up a love for God in your own heart and find ways to pour out the love and wisdom of God to your kids as you go. We should be resolved to say, in my home, my kids will learn what it means to humbly walk with the Lord. I don’t want to put unnecessary weights on them. But I do want them to know the joys of life with God. 

We should be teaching our kids who God is, what sin is, that Jesus died on the Cross to save sinners like us, how to practice repentance and forgiveness, what and how to pray. 

We should do the best we can to create an environment in our homes where the gospel is lived out among them. Listen, if we say that the gospel is the good news that Jesus saves sinners through his life, death, and resurrection, but we never practice repentance then we’re missing something in our discipleship. 

In my home, I want my kids to learn that they will be held accountable for their sins just like me, but they won’t be defined by their worst moments. I try to tell my kids, even in those hard moments, God loves you, I love you, I’m cheering for your repentance, and I am so ready to extend forgiveness. 

Verse 4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” Arrows are meant to shoot out into the world your effectiveness. Our kids will be able to go into places and times we will not reach. And as they go, my prayer is that they will be instruments in God’s hands to bring about the redemption of many, equipped and ready for His purposes, not yours. 

I want to launch out a man and women who understand what it means to walk with God by faith. Who have experienced the grace of the gospel. Who understand the cost of living on mission, and who recognize the greater value to be found in the kingdom of God. 

Listen, your kids won’t just stumble upon these things. They learn what we teach them, and whatever we don’t teach, they’ll do their best to fill in the gaps. And there are many things I don’t want them to have gaps on.

Now, for the church, I want you to hear that you also play a vital role in discipleship. I am so grateful that my kids want to come to church. They see the church as a community where they belong, where they’re loved and known. Where people care about them. That God cares about them.

The kids in this church need more than just their parents teaching them the truths of the gospel. They need friends who are also learning what it means to walk with God. They need mentors who are laboring to pass on the same faith and same gospel. When I was doing student ministry, I would often have parents share stories about their teenagers learning some biblical truth from our ministry. And they would playfully add, “I’ve been telling them that for years.” Sometimes they just needed another voice.

In my time in ministry, I have encountered so many young men who would have loved to have someone ahead of them speak into their life and faith. And it’s never too late to turn around, look at who’s coming up behind you, and ask yourself, “How can I contribute to the seeing this person grow in faithfulness to Christ?” But listen, just because you’re older and more mature in the faith doesn’t mean you won’t also grow in the process. 

If you don’t know where to begin, I know our church needs more people to serve in kids ministry. We have a student ministry that, Lord willing, will continue to grow. We have a young adults ministry that we’re looking to get up and running. Those are some great places to start. 

Now, you may hear all of this and say, I don’t know if I can do it! But even with our families, as with any venture, the success or failure ultimately falls on the Lord. Unless the Lord builds the house we labor in vain. And this is good news for us. Because the heart of the gospel says to turn to Jesus to do for you what you could never do for yourself. Rest in him. And trust him to supply you with the strength you need to endure. 

God promised David a house and a kingdom that would last forever. And when his son Solomon took up the crown, he looked good at the beginning. But because of his sin he ended in ruin. But that’s not the end of the story. Because God overcomes our sin and ruin at the Cross. And he says anyone who puts their faith in him will not be put to shame. 

Jesus is building and watching over the house. Jesus is invested in raising up the family of God. And Jesus is standing at the city gate ready to redeem you. Our future and the future of every generation ultimately falls on his shoulders. So take heart! Because he is able to do it. 

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